So here goes, then. Time to put on the tin hats and brace ourselves. 2017 stretches before us and I don’t know about you, but I think it might be interesting.
In the way that watching a building collapse, say, or an asteroid hitting a small planet might be interesting, but interesting nonetheless. We just have to keep going and hope for the best.
It is the British way, after all. In this spirit, I’m right back into the kitchen after the festive period, full of ideas and recipes, doing what I do best, cooking.
And this week’s recipe is a lovely seasonal affair, perfect for these blustery, ever so slightly miserable days when the revelry has faded, the presents are stored away and the dead Christmas trees sit forlornly in the garden.
I’m making a classic frangipane tart, a favourite of mine. It’s one of those recipes that I default to on occasions when I can’t think of anything interesting to make for guests – it’s satisfying and simple; gets the job done.
There’s a lovely comforting feel to the warm, fluffy frangipane within the crunchy, buttery pastry, hiding fruity treasures within. In summer it’s the perfect way to serve fresh raspberries or cherries, and later in the year it’s a great showcase for stone fruit such as apricots and peaches.
It’s brilliant with dried fruit, too, and at this time of year, when fresh fruit is thin on the ground (need I remind you that you should most definitely not be buying strawberries at this time of year? There is no excuse. None whatsoever!) it’s nice to use the more concentrated, intense flavours of dried or semi-dried fruits, either solo or in combinations.
Lovely squishy Agen prunes work brilliantly, as do semi-dried apricots. So this week’s recipe takes this idea and elaborates it into something a little more seasonal and fancy. We’re using fresh plums and figs along with a few dried fruits, and adding a couple of other ingredients too.
I always like the warm, toasty flavour of golden, deep-roasted hazelnuts, so there’s a few of those tucked into the citrussy frangipane, and on top we’re strewing some fresh pine-nuts. The notion of putting pine nuts on fruit tarts is quite common across Europe, from Spain, all the way around the Mediterranean and into the Middle East.
They add a lovely aromatic crunch to proceedings, and make the top of the tart look visually appealing.
It’s a great recipe to make for an informal get-together, but would also make a great dessert for a dinner party, either sliced in wedges or made as individual tartlets.
And whilst one can serve this tart with pouring cream, clotted cream or even a scoop of good vanilla ice-cream, I wanted to serve mine with a big, billowy blob of proper whipped cream on this occasion, laced with a hint of Calvados, that fiery apple brandy of which Normandy is justifiably proud.
Don’t worry if you have no Calvados, any brandy will do, or even a slug of malt whisky. It adds a decidedly decadent note to the rich, fruity, nutty tart.
What a smashing way to lift the spirits as the year, this crazy year, begins in earnest.
For the pastry case:
250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter
90g caster sugar
1 large egg
A pinch of fine salt
For the frangipane:
100g ground almonds
100g unrefined golden caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large free-range egg
1 free-range egg yolk
20g plain flour
The zest of 1 lemon
The zest of 1 orange
For the filling:
2 fresh figs
2 fresh red plums
25g dried cherries
25g dried apricots, chopped
25g Medjool dates, chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tbsp hazelnuts, lightly toasted
For the glaze:
2 tbsps apricot jam
A little lemon juice
For the Calvados cream:
300ml tub of whipping cream
Calvados (or brandy)
1 x 21cm tart tin with removable base
First, make the frangipane; beat the butter and sugar in a mixer or by hand until very pale and fluffy, then add the egg and yolk one by one, beating well to fully incorporate. Add the ground almonds, the sifted flour and a splash of vanilla extract.
Fold in the grated citrus zests. You should end up with a lovely light creamy-smooth paste. Store this in a tub in the fridge until required, and allow it to come up to room temperature before working with it, as it might tear the pastry if it’s too cold and stiff.
Now, make the pastry; by hand, or in a processor, whizz the flour, sugar and butter together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. With the power still on, add the egg and then a trickle of chilled water, until it just brings the pastry together into a medium-soft dough.
Shape into a rough thick disc by hand, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour. Heat the oven to 200ºC/Gas 6. On a wide, well-floured work surface, roll out the pastry in a rough circle, about the thickness of a pound coin.
Line the case with the pastry, pushing it into the corners, trim off the excess, leaving a small lip, then cut out a 30cm disc of baking parchment. Screw it into a tight ball, then carefully unfold it and push it gently into the pastry case, making sure it gets to every corner. Fill the case with baking beans and chill the tart for another hour.
Bake the tart for about 15 minutes, or until it is set and pale golden in colour, then remove the parchment carefully and bake for a further 5 minutes to fully cook the base. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack. Reduce the oven heat to 180ºC / Gas 4.
To make up the tart, spoon in the frangipane to within a centimetre of the top of the pastry, allowing for spreading when you push the fruit in. Here’s where you can be as neat or random as you wish – I prefer the rustic look personally.
Start by placing the hazelnuts and chopped dried fruits all around the tart, then cut the plums and figs into wedges and arrange these all over the top of the tart. Sprinkle the surface with the pine-nuts and bake the tart for 25-30 minutes, or until the frangipane is risen slightly, and a deep golden colour.
Take the tart from the oven and allow it to cool a little. As it cools, gently heat the apricot jam with a splash of lemon juice in a small pan, and when completely melted, pass through a sieve. Gently spoon or brush this all over the tart to give a nice, even, glossy glaze.
Finally, whip the cream to a soft peak, and sprinkle in a little Calvados to taste. Whisk to incorporate and chill until required.
Serve a big dollop with generous wedges of the fruit tart.